My last blog post circled the issue of whether motherhood was an occupational hazard to writing, and vice versa. There are a lot of books about writing, and lots of books about motherhood, or even writing the experience of motherhood, but there aren’t many books about writing and motherhood. Phewf. Double Lives: Writing and Motherhood is the only collection of essays I’m aware of (but please tell me if there are more) that is edited and written by women who are writers and mothers.
I first read Double Lives a few years ago when I started to think about having a baby. At the time, I approached motherhood and writing pretty much the same way I approached buying a car: by researching the heck out of it. What were the reviews? What did the instruction manual say about the warning lights on the dashboard? How were the safety ratings? Terrible analogy, I know, but that’s how out to lunch I was about motherhood. I knew the basics – that babies cried, needed their diapers changed, needed milk and love. I wasn’t worried about the love part because that, I assumed, would come naturally (whatever that meant), and from (I assumed) the same place as my desire for a baby. I wasn’t prepared for the type of love that would leave me, in the moments I somehow surfaced from staring at the radiator next to the rocking chair and was able to think about the abstraction that is love and the way it connected to the baby nursing in my arms, stumbling around on a cellular level.
Returning to the book as a mother has certainly been a cellular experience. By cellular, I suppose I mean visceral, but stickier and more splendid. There is no field that can study or define it, but Double Lives tries – and relatively successfully. The truths I now recognize are, as the editors state, “the intersection of two consuming passions: the passion to write and the passion to mother…the yearning – and struggle – to create.” Duplicity, yes, but multiplying at an exponential – or cellular – level.
When I first read Double Lives, I found myself critical of the title’s implications, despite the editors’ acknowledgment of the inherent duplicity. I thought the concept was very Victorian, and hadn’t we moved beyond the idea of women as dichotomies? Wasn’t it possible to be a writer and a mother without doubling oneself? Basically, I didn’t get it. Not to say that I get it now, but I somehow recognize, on a cellular level, the wisdom these essays offer: I’ll never understand the intersection – that’s not the point – but I’ll have to navigate it. Perhaps a mobius strip might be a better metaphor, or a palindrome, or, even better, one of those DNA-looking helix-type teething toys my daughter loves to chew.
The essays collectively explore relationships, finances, employment, physical spaces, and of course, mothering and writing. Two essays that especially speak to me are by Robyn Sarah and Rachel Rose – Sarah’s for her pragmatic discussion of wanting to establish herself as a writer and publish a book as much as wanting children, and Rose’s for her devastating, Rilkean honesty. Of her second labour, Rose writes:
“Poetry didn’t matter anymore. I was holding on to a rope of sheets, dipped in a well of pain and then drawn up again, a dripping bucket. This time, I was not so afraid to be emptied, to be returned entirely to my body. It is not a bad thing, once in a while, for a writer to be poured out, emptied of ego” (236).
To be clear, Rose isn’t advocating self-sacrifice or any of that angel in the house business. Rather, she advocates for coming to terms with desire and experience, as do many of the women in this collection who have written so generously and candidly about motherhood and writing. Perhaps doubling is a good concept – it worked much better for me the second time around.